WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The Gatestone Institute, a conservative, non-profit foreign policy think tank chaired by former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, is claiming that while the Islamic State is carrying out its ruthless persecution of Christians, they aren't entirely at fault.
Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians, writes in a piece on the institute's website, "Everywhere that U.S. leadership helped Islamic jihadis topple secular autocrats in the name of 'democracy and freedom,' indigenous Christian minorities are forced either to convert to Islam or die."
"Many are accepting of death," Ibrahim wrote.
Ibrahim chronicles some of the persecution taking place in the region, such as the recent torture, crucifixion and beheading of Christians near Aleppo.
"The same is happening in the two other Arab nations where the U.S., under the pretext of 'freedom and democracy,' overthrew the secular dictators who had long kept a lid on the jihadis: Libya and Iraq," Ibrahim wrote.
Everywhere that U.S. leadership helped Islamic jihadis topple secular autocrats in the name of 'democracy and freedom,' indigenous Christian minorities are forced either to convert to Islam or die ... The same is happening in the two other Arab nations where the U.S., under the pretext of 'freedom and democracy,' overthrew the secular dictators who had long kept a lid on the jihadis: Libya and Iraq.
In other words, American presidents may not like the Arab strong man, but he is all that stands between the Christian minority and those who want to kill them.
Ibrahim then described the situation in Iraq, where he said the Anglican priest, Andrew White – known as the "vicar of Baghdad" – has seen the results of persecution firsthand. In one account, White wrote:
"ISIS turned up and they said to the [Christian] children, 'You say the words [shehada, convert to Islam], that you will follow Muhammad.' And the children, all under 15, four of them, they said, 'No, we love Jesus [Yesua]. We have always loved Jesus. We have always followed Jesus. Jesus has always been with us." They [ISIS] said, 'Say the words!' They [children] said, 'No, we can't.' [White starts sobbing] They chopped all their heads off. How do you respond to that? You just cry. They are my children. That is what we have been going through. That is what we are going through."
White, Ibrahim wrote, regularly circulates pictures of Christians persecuted since Saddam Hussein was removed from power.
Ibrahim's voice joins a small chorus of voices that claim the U.S. policy of supporting the "Arab Spring" hasn't led to a flowering of democracy, but to a new type of Dark Age for the Middle East where the power vacuums created by the toppling (or near toppling in the case of Syria's Bashaar al-Assad) have left an opening for an Islamic purification of the countries.
The leader of the Syriac Catholic Church is one such voice. Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Yonan said in a recent interview that the U.S. was "wrong in its approach to that situation in Syria ... since the beginning."
"They wanted to just change the government because they were telling people, the media, that this guy, Bashar al-Assad was a dictator, so he has to go to liberate the people of the country and to bring democracy," Yonan said.
"The Syrian patriarch has condemned this ideologically inspired foreign policy. Setting aside whatever value it may have in some nations, he doesn't see it working in places like Syria.
"You can't export Western democracy into countries where you don't have separation of church and state, where you have what we call the hegemony of religion," Yonan said. "Whatever you do, you'll be unable to implement this kind of democracy they were praising, whatsoever."
Others are using the idea that the push for western-style democracy in the Middle East has resulted in violence for global political advantage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the United Nations that the Arab Spring was the reason for the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster -- and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?" Putin said at the U.N.
"It is now obvious that the power vacuum created in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa through the emergence of anarchy areas, which immediately started to be filled with extremists and terrorists."
In at least one place, the power vacuum caused by the Arab Spring was filled quickly. After a series of riots against the Egyptian government and the failure of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which was supported by the U.S., the Egyptian military took control of the country and reinstituted the secular Arab "strong man."
Now, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – a former military officer and secretary of defense who ousted Muhammad Morsi – has called for a "religious revolution" to combat ISIS, which has conducted attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. That does not mean that persecution in the country has ceased, but it is not happening on the scale perpetrated by ISIS.
Last week, al-Sisi granted permission for the Coptic Christian Church to begin construction of a $1.3 million church honoring the 21 Coptics beheaded on a Libyan beach by ISIS in February 2014. Christian observers in Egypt note that, though some persecution still takes place, Egypt is climbing out of its brief sojourn into the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Friar Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, told Asia News the president was instituting reforms so the presence of Islamic extremism in society "has been progressively waning. Add to that the fight against fundamentalism, sectarianism and extremism in mosques" and there is "more secularism without the rejection of religion."
Egypt, Greiche said, "is trying to build a society that cares about religion, but one not based on differences between Christians and Muslims."